This Sunday marks two years since China began a sweeping crackdown on human rights lawyers, sparking an international outcry about the mistreatment of detainees in custody.
The release two months ago of human rights lawyer Li Heping is one case that highlights those concerns, and it has renewed calls for an investigation into torture allegations of jailed dissidents in China.
According to Li's wife, Wang Qiaoling, her husband "was constantly subject to beating, verbal insults and other forms of intimidation, including punching and kicking. But those weren't the worst. He said during his 22-month detention, his most life-threatening moment or near-death experience was when he was forced to take [unknown] medicines," Wang told VOA.
In some cases, he was forced to take doses of up to six pills for medical conditions, including heart disease and high blood pressure — conditions with which he was not affected.
The forced medication continued for almost 20 months, even if he complained of side effects such as dizziness, blurred vision and muscle pains, she added.
She said other forms of torture Li endured included demands that he remain still and stiff for long hours while awake and asleep. During one month, his hands and feet were cuffed 24 hours a day, and he was deprived of sufficient food, sunlight and blankets to keep him warm.
After learning how Li was treated, Wang repeatedly appealed to the Supreme Court and the top procuratorate in China, demanding a further investigation. So far, authorities have refused to investigate the accusations of police torture, which she said is common among rights lawyers arrested during the sweeping crackdown that began July 9, 2015.
Late last month, though, multiple judicial bodies issued a provision that excluded from court sessions illegal evidence extracted through torture. Some see that as a small sign of progress as China moves into the third year of the lawyer crackdown.
Yet that progress, observers say, may only be China paying lip service to a pervasive problem that it is unlikely to quickly solve.
Common acts of torture
According to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concerned Group, at least 320 lawyers, rights defenders and their family members have been detained, questioned or held under house arrest over the past two years.
As of Thursday, Jiang Tianyong, Wang Quanzhang, Wu Gan, Wang Fang and Li Yanjun remain detained. All except Jiang are awaiting trial.
Among those who have openly accused police of torture is Xie Yang. However, Xie recanted his allegations when he appeared in court. He was released on bail in early May.
Xie's wife, Chen Guiqiu, is trying to press for accountability and punishment of the police she said tortured her husband.
"The police and investigators are torture offenders, who should be held responsible. We can only take legal actions against them. But after we filed lawsuits, the procuratorate had harbored and colluded with the public security agency. We can only hope for rule of law and continue to disclose [their acts of torture]," said Chen, who has fled China and is now in the U.S. with her two daughters.
Chen said she will continue her fight for justice overseas and urged Chinese authorities to set Xie free as he is still under tight surveillance by secret police and being held at a designated location in Changsha in Hunan province.
Both Chen and Wang say that they are proud of their husbands and their efforts to fight for justice and basic rights of the socially-disadvantaged groups in China.
Following renewed allegations of torture, international rights groups have recently submitted a joint report to the UN's Committee Against Torture, which they say should be used for China's next rights review.
While urging China to end its crackdown, they called on other U.N. bodies and governments around the world to sanction and hold rights abusers in China accountable.
"This crackdown was clearly an attempt to eliminate lawyers that the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] felt were a threat to the one-party dictatorship," said Frances Eve, a researcher with Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
On July 27, authorities in China issued a provision stipulating that courts shall exclude confessions extracted through torture and that interrogations of criminal suspects must take place in regulated settings with video and audio recording. In addition, health checks for detainees should be conducted to detect potential torture, among other measures.
According to the provision, however, courts will be left to determine whether evidence has been illegally extracted.
Albert Ho, a member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council, said that he finds it hard to believe China will implement the non-torture regulation.
"They [China] only pay lip service to international conventions on human rights or against torture. They're doing totally different things. They are the most well-organized liars in human history," Ho said.